Citation is a needed part of legal research as it allows those viewing your pleadings and filings to find the resources you used in drafting them. However, citation rules can be a barrier to access.
Eleven (11) states require the use of The Bluebook, a proprietary system of citation. (See Note 1) In addition to the fact that it’s a closed system and the monetary costs associated with using it, use of the Bluebook is also problematic in that it always requires cites to the West National Reporter System. So in these jurisdictions that require the use of The Bluebook, an individual (or a library that he/she patronizes) will have to pay to access both of these resources.
Even in non-Bluebook requiring states, court rules will require citation to an “official” source of law. In the far majority of states, the official version of the law is not the online version and thus the individual must seek a print copy and incur travel and time costs to access it at a library. A private copy would cost well into the thousands of dollars and it is not reasonable to think that an individual would purchase.
In the publication of case law, the online version of the law was unofficial in ninty-two (92) out of one hundred and five (105) sources surveyed. The online version of the states’ codes was unofficial in forty-six (46) of the fifty-one (51) state codes surveyed. Regulations fared slightly better and only thirty (30) of the fifty (50) online codes were unofficial. Of course, in ten (10) of the states, or 20% of the time, it was impossible to determine the status of the online version. See charts below. Click to enlarge.
There are strides being made to alleviate some of the barriers caused by commercial citation. Currently sixteen (16) states have developed vendor neutral citation formats for case law. (See Note 2) However, eleven (11) of these states require a parallel citation to a West National Reporter System version of the case. (See Note 3) In all of the states, a citation to an “official” version is required in cites to cases decided before the transformation to vendor neutral.
Note 1: They are: Alabama, California, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Washington.
Note 2: They are: Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
Note 3: The states NOT requiring a parallel cite to a commercial publication are: Colorado, Illinois, Mississippi, New Mexico and Wyoming.